ATLFF Q&A with GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY Director James Gunn and Actor Michael Rooker: “Atlanta has treated us really, really well!”

Posted on: Apr 12th, 2016 By:

atlffguardiansBy Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

James Gunn’s GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 is now filming in Atlanta, and last week’s Atlanta Film Festival took advantage by booking a screening of the original GUARDIANS movie with a Q&A after with Gunn and actor Michael Rooker. If you heard about this event, it may have been in context of the grumpy final exchange between Gunn and a fan who asked Rooker if his GUARDIANS character, Yondu, was a just a copy of his racist redneck Merle from THE WALKING DEAD. But prior to that hiccup, the Q&A had been a lovefest between Gunn, Rooker and a roomful of appreciative fans. Here are some highlights from the rest of the session:

Gunn on taking the time to do the Q&A: “One of the reasons we wanted to come do this today is because, really, Atlanta has treated us really, really well so far. We have an amazing crew, many of whom are from Atlanta; the majority of them are from Atlanta. And it’s nice to be able to come and do something with you guys and give a little thanks for what you guys have given us. So we really just appreciate being here, and really the hospitality of the city in general. “

rocketOn GUARDIANS 2: “It’s been a lot of hard work, honestly. It’s a much bigger film. Also at the same time, a much more intimate film, more character-driven in certain ways, so it’s just a lot of work. And everybody has been on their game. The new cast members… Kurt Russell has been incredible. And Pom Klementieff… who plays a new Guardian has been just, she blows me away. She’s really been perfect.”

On directing actors: “It’s kind of like going through a dark cave and you’re looking for those moments of truth, which means that you’re kind of working together , you’re holding hands, you can’t always see exactly where you’re going, but you’re trying to find those true moments. So that often means that I’m having people do things again and again and again and again and again.”

On moving from indie films to blockbusters: “I don’t think I was ever scared of the scope. I feel like I’ve always wanted to do huge movies, so I think that I’ve always been working towards that. I’ve always been afraid of ‘are people going to like the movie,’ ‘is the movie going to make money?’ There are times on the first movie where I’d wake up at 3 a.m. and go ‘Oh no, am I making PLUTO NASH (2002)?’”

Rooker on people dressed up as GUARDIANS characters: “It’s better if they’re undressed.”

Gunn joking about Rooker: “We’ve done four movies, two webseries, two reality shows, a video game… it’s really my penance for my success. He is the cross I carry on my back. ‘OK, you can have all your dreams and your money and whatever, but you have to work with Michael Rooker.’”

Rooker on acting with pop songs: [After Gunn describes playing the pop songs on set as they’ll appear in the film] “It’s going, the music’s going. And then you hear ‘action.’ But by the time you hear ‘action,’ you’re already into the music. I’m telling you, it’s so hard to not bop along.”

Gunn on convincing the studio to hire Rooker: “There were a couple of people I had to fight for on the first movie. I had to fight for [Rooker] real hard and I had to fight for Dave Bautista. It was an uphill battle….Especially because you have these guys who are, like, 50ish year old guys, there’s a lot of them, a lot of really big actors around that age that would die to be in a Marvel project. So he’s not just auditioning against all of these other no name actors, they have to trust me to hire him over a bunch of A-list actors or guys who are just out of being A-list actors. So that’s what they had to put faith in.”

Guardians-of-the-GalaxyGunn on Rocket Raccoon: “Rocket is my inner child. The whole movie to me was based on Rocket. Marvel came to me with this movie, I thought ‘you guys are crazy,’ this sounds like an insane idea. I was driving home from the meeting and I’m like, ‘OK, let’s say there was really a talking raccoon. How would that exist? And it was really that scene is everything, GUARDIANS was built out of that, so I have a very strong emotional connection to Rocket…. Rocket is really a combination of a lot of people. I write the character. My brother Sean does all the acting on set. Bradley [Cooper] comes and does the voice. We have a whole team of animators who help with the acting there. So there’s a lot of control I have, a lot more attachment to Rocket and to Groot in that respect.”

On SUICIDE SQUAD (2016) and other movies emulating GUARDIANS’ humor: “If it’s sincere, I think that’s great. For me, honestly, the reason why GUARDIANS was successful, and I believe the reason a movie like DEADPOOL (2016) was successful is because we really are sincere about it. This is the real stuff. Everything in this movie is something I believe in. I believe in those characters. Some people think I’m crazy. Because I love that raccoon. I mean, as much as I would love my own child. Really, it’s a little bit insane. But I love those characters so much, and I love that story so much, and I love that I was a kid that was not a normal kid and felt very alone. And luckily I had some artists out there, who I could listen to their music or watch their films, whether it was David Cronenberg movies or Alice Cooper’s music, where I thought ‘goddamn I’m not the only weirdo in the world.’ And to be able to make a movie that speaks to those people, that speaks to people that feel like they’re alone or like they’re outcasts or that don’t have friends or have screwed-up families and need that connection with other living beings, that they can feel some small part of that through seeing GUARDIANS, that is why I make the movies. And that is the only reason I make them.”

Andrew Kemp is a screenwriter and game designer who started talking about movies in 1984 and got stuck that way. He can be seen around town wherever there are movies, cheap beer and little else.

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Head-Crushing, Nuclear Waste-Guzzling Mutants Unite at the Plaza Theatre for the Troma Film Festival!

Posted on: Jun 26th, 2013 By:

The Plaza Theatre presents the Troma Film Festival; Starts Wednesday, June 26 @ 7 p.m., Thursday, June 27 @ 5 p.m.; Plaza Theatre; Schedule and Event Info here; Tickets $30 for 2-day passes, $12 for single day passes, available at Plaza box office.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

Troma Entertainment. Say what you will about them, they’ve survived nearly 40 years of independence while assaulting the very idea of good taste, and simultaneously bringing the concept of the B-movie into the home video age. And for two inglorious nights, the Plaza Theatre brings Atlanta a look back at the filmic legacy of Troma, the films they’ve produced and the films they’ve distributed with the Troma Film Festival.

Troma started up shop in 1974, the brainchild of extravagant frontman Lloyd Kaufman and the behind-the-scenes, lurking-only-in-shadows figure of Michael Herz. (Seriously, Michael Herz is the Sasquatch of independent cinema: only seen running awkwardly in blurry 8mm film clips shot from a great distance away.) The team not only created and distributed their own sex comedies for the exploitation/grindhouse/drive-in circuit (such as SQUEEZE PLAY!, THE FIRST TURN ON! and WAITRESS!), but also provided assistance to outside productions such as John Avildsen’s 1986 classic ROCKY (which was edited on Troma’s flatbed editing equipment) and Louis Malle’s 1981 feature MY DINNER WITH ANDRE.

But it was in 1984, just after the advent of the home video revolution, that Troma made its first big, bloody splash. THE TOXIC AVENGER started with Lloyd speculating 10 years earlier that a horror film set at a health spa would be interesting. Over the years, the idea mutated like Toxie himself, becoming a self-referential (the film is set in the fictional Tromaville, NJ, which would become a mainstay of Kaufman/Herz-helmed Troma flicks) and hyper-violent superhero spoof. While the film came and went in general release with little notice, its success in midnight screenings led to nation-wide coverage and its successful distribution on VHS through Lightning Video. Significantly, though, because Troma had faced pushback over certain gory scenes in getting the R rating needed to gain widespread theatrical exhibition from the MPAA, they discovered that home video was a surefire way to bypass the ratings board and use that to extend the Troma brand.

Troma followed up on the huge success of THE TOXIC AVENGER with 1986’s similarly mutated CLASS OF NUKE ‘EM HIGH. Co-directed by Kaufman and Richard W. Haines, the film continued on the same parodic path as previous, sending up the sensationalistic “high school gang” film tradition that reached from 1955’s THE BLACKBOARD JUNGLE to ‘82’s CLASS OF 1984, spiking it with the heady taste of radioactive waste. The film was another success for Troma, both theatrically and on home video, and the company began hacking out a place in the home video market that they sought to fill with outside productions.

Much like Kaufman’s role models in American International Pictures and Roger Corman’s New World Pictures, Troma ventured into the world of acquisition, finding independently-produced films from other movie-makers that stylistically fit under the Troma umbrella. They picked up “Tromatic” flicks like the notoriously gore-filled and sadistically sleazy BLOODSUCKING FREAKS, the revenge comedy SURF NAZIS MUST DIE, the Belgian import RABID GRANNIES and the surprisingly good-natured spoof MONSTER IN THE CLOSET. Meanwhile, earlier Troma productions like their sex comedies saw new life in video stores across the country.

Constant advertising and coverage in magazines like FANGORIA helped to ensure that their target audience of horror-and-gore-loving young adults was constantly in the know when a new Troma flick was hitting the shelves. In the mid-80s, if you were a teenager into horror and comedy, it was pretty much a guaranteed thing that you went through a Troma phase. While plenty of people tried to emulate the mixture of gross-out humor and blood-soaked horror that the company reveled in, Troma had established itself as a reliable brand for all your disgusting needs and had that part of the market pretty much sewn up.

If this were something like VH-1’s BEHIND THE MUSIC or an E! TRUE HOLLYWOOD STORY, you’d expect a fall right about now. And hey, look! There’s one right here!

In 1988, Troma undertook their most expensive film to date, TROMA’S WAR. The film was created to send up hyper-patriotic war films of the Reagan era like RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART 2, INVASION U.S.A. and MISSING IN ACTION (and, by extension, the Reagan administration’s attempt to glorify war in general). However, its blatant over-the-top violence and subplot involving terrorists spreading AIDS to the US led the company to run afoul of the MPAA once again. While cuts had been made to previous Troma films, at least their storylines remained comprehensible. After submitting the film twice to the board, nearly 20 minutes were removed in order to receive an R rating, and the film was butchered so heavily that it made even less sense than your typical Troma flick. It flopped in a spectacular fashion, the critical response was abysmal, and the negative press even affected the home video release. The financial loss to the company was nearly fatal.

It wasn’t until 1996’s TROMEO AND JULIET that Troma began to establish itself once again. An ambitious attempt to create a comic version of Shakespeare’s play that was both relatively faithful and Tromatic, the film was the first collaboration between Lloyd Kaufman and James Gunn (SLITHER, SUPER and the upcoming GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY) and it was a breath of fresh air after an unsuccessful series of TOXIC AVENGER and NUKE ‘EM HIGH sequels. TROMEO was critically acclaimed and had successful art house engagements in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, where it played for over a year. Suddenly, with a huge return on a $350,000 investment, Troma was back on the map. While 1999’s TERROR FIRMER and 2000’s CITIZEN TOXIE: THE TOXIC AVENGER IV were comparatively less successful, they did help to keep the brand above water and in the public eye.

And, as is to be expected, Troma managed to turn things around.

Troma’s website had long been a fan destination for original Troma-related content, and they decided to pursue a novel idea: an anthology series called TALES FROM THE CRAPPER entirely presented on their website. They enlisted model/actress/producer India Allen to develop the series with a budget of $250,000. Allen backed out of production halfway through, and later sued Troma for breach of contract, slander, sexual harassment, trade slander and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The resulting footage was nearly unusable, and Troma attempted to salvage the project as a series of two DVD releases. It was a huge blow to what was turning out to be a second coming for the studio.

But then in 2006, Troma returned with POULTRYGEIST: NIGHT OF THE CHICKEN DEAD. A satirical horror movie take on the fast-food industry, the film was plagued with production problems throughout its shooting. Effects didn’t work, money was short, actors weren’t being paid, sets were destroyed prematurely…in short, it was what you’d expect a Troma shoot to be like. Despite all of the troubles, though, it was completed on schedule and was released to Troma’s best notices to date, and finally saw wide release in 2008. Publications ranging from ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY to THE GUARDIAN singled out the film as “an exploitation movie with soul” and “wonderfully bold” (respectively), while NEW YORK magazine and SALON.com chose the movie as a Critic’s Pick.

Feeling gusts from the winds of success at their backs, Troma decided to partner with Canadian filmmaking team Astron-6. Known at the time for their short films disguised as fake trailers for imaginary 1970s and ‘80s movies (including COOL GUYS, LAZER GHOSTS 2: RETURN TO LASER COVE and FIREMAN), Troma released a DVD of their shorts to great acclaim and co-produced the epic FATHER’S DAY with them. A spoof of 1970s rape-revenge flicks (with the genders reversed), supernatural horror and slasher movies, screenings of the film were greeted with wild enthusiasm, and it looked like this was to be a harbinger of another grand new era for Troma Entertainment.

But then, this is Troma we’re talking about. You know what’s about to happen.

A huge rift between Astron-6 and Troma pretty much put a kibosh on there being any more collaboration between the two parties. Astron-6 claimed that Lloyd was selling bootleg DVD-Rs of the film at screenings, which led to early piracy of the film. Troma’s initial poster art removed Astron-6’s logo. Disputes and conflicting claims from both entities over a “making of” documentary (which was critical of Troma) led to it not being included on the DVD release of the film. Troma scrapped the planned Astron-6 commentary track from the release, and included an early cut of the film rather than the finished, final cut.

So that leaves us here, as we stand reflecting on 40 years of Tromatic entertainment. Still with me? Good.

Because Troma is still with us as well. Like cockroaches, they will survive to be the only film studio standing after the nuclear holocaust that will obliterate all other life in the year 2025, the studio run by a coterie of mutants and some guy wearing a Toxie mask carrying around Lloyd’s head in a jar. And probably Michael Herz. No matter who’s come after them for their exercises in poor taste, no matter how shoddy their business practices may or may not be, Troma springs eternal.

May the lord have mercy on us all.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog atdoctorsardonicus.wordpress.com

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